Amanda Mills has been writing and reviewing for NZ Musician since 2007, and since 2011 has been employed at Hocken Collections in Dunedin, as a Liaison Librarian and Curator of the Music and AV Collections. With 2021 marking 40 years of Flying Nun, Amanda and her equally Kiwi music enthusiast colleagues set about figuring out how best the Hocken Collections might celebrate what was, by dint of office geography, after all, a Christchurch label. A fun, but hardly enviable task as it turns out.
When a national collecting institution decides to celebrate a significant musical anniversary, how do they approach such an event? This was one question we asked ourselves frequently at Hocken Collections when considering how to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Flying Nun records.
The Hocken music collections are large, with music sheets dating back to 1857, and recordings of New Zealanders dating to 1905, and they are continually developed to reflect the evolving and diverse styles of all music and music-making in NZ.
Music is also heavily represented within the posters and ephemera collections, with over 2000 posters relating to music housed. Papers, records, and documents relating to musicial groups and individual musicians are held within Hocken’s archives, while our published collections include a wide range of books, reports, magazines and ‘zines on different types of music and the music industry. The photographic collections also contain promotional, and live performance images of musicians.
All materials at Hocken Collections are open to the public to view, and are acquired by purchase, or from generous donations. Donors are especially important to collecting institutions, as they give unknown, and unexpected items that fill gaps in collections, and expand on already held materials. This year my colleague Katherine Milburn (Liaison Librarian and Curator Ephemera) and I have gathered material from across all Hocken’s Collections to co-curate an exhibition on a music anniversary, the 40th anniversary of Flying Nun Records.
Flying Nun Records is being well celebrated in 2021. Two large shows were staged in Auckland and Wellington mid-year featuring contemporary and legacy bands associated with the label, as well as an exhibition at Christchurch Art Gallery celebrating the visual art of Flying Nun, and the label’s close links to that city.
Hocken Collections’ exhibition has a specific scope: the Dunedin connection. This scope situates the music made by Dunedin musicians for Flying Nun to place and community.
By focusing specifically on Dunedin musicians and music-making, we can look at the social environment, the role of the University of Otago in the music scene, and – crucially – the live performance music scene. We decided on a title that captured the different facets of the scene – Kaleidoscope World: 40Years Of Flying Nun in Dunedin. As Kaleidoscope World is taken from a Chills song, Martin Phillipps generously granted us permission to use it as our title.
Once the scope was established then the fun could really begin – choosing material to include in the exhibition. We started off selecting items from our respective collections of recorded music, posters and ephemera. The Hocken has been collecting music-related materials since the late 1970s, and the collections are rich with early pressings and hand-made posters related to the local Flying Nun scene (as well as the wider Dunedin and NZ music scenes).
However picking from these collections wasn’t simple, and we couldn’t include every item we found. We created ‘long lists’ of titles, before looking across the other collections at Hocken. Within the photography archives we discovered exceptional collections like Frank Tod’s photographs of Dunedin taverns and hotels that included many gig venues, and a donation of negatives from local Dunedin photographer Nigel Yates which included numerous promotional and live performance images of musicians.
These included Jay Clarkson, Sandra Bell, The Verlaines, The Chills and Straitjacket Fits. Yates had also taken photographs from the 1996 ‘Sound of Dunedin’ live performance that included photographs of Look Blue Go Purple. The Yates collection is a rich resource for images of Dunedin – not only for images of the music community, but also for images of artists, writers, and people involved in the arts, as well as images of the city from the 1980s and ’90s.
Photographs were also sourced from various collections held in Hocken’s archival collection including from the papers of poet Gaylene (who was a huge supporter on Dunedin’s punk scene).
Documents from the archives have also been included – from both the papers of Verlaines’ singer, songwriter and guitarist Graeme Downes, and those of Xpressway Records, the independent Dunedin label from the late ’80s to early ’90s. With help from our exhibition designer, Neil Lowe, we established a narrative focusing on Flying Nun’s legacy at a local level.
Kaleidoscope World: 40 Years Of Flying Nun in Dunedin is an exhibition about music rather than static documents, and live performance plays a key role in two particular ways. One is through a video reel of live performances of some of the key Dunedin Flying Nun bands from those decades. Two or three songs from six bands were sourced from either Hocken’s video collections, or from loans of footage to create this video reel.
The performances (all in glorious non-HD video) will be a reminder to many of bands and gigs they saw, while also giving unfamiliar audiences an idea of what the performances of these bands were like, nearly 40 years ago.
Our second homage to live performance is a unique item in the exhibition and a true highlight – a commissioned map of Dunedin venues from the time, painted on the exhibition gallery wall by Robert Scott (of The Bats, The Clean, and Magick Heads). Pictured to the right, Scott has painted with great detail and his map identifies where many of the venues were located, and underlines how vibrant the gig scene during this period. Dunedin now has a very small number of gig venues, so this map is a strong visual reminder of what has been lost over 40 years.
His artwork is truly ephemeral – once the exhibition has finished, the map will be painted over. However, the original drawing of the map is reproduced on the exhibition poster, and has been added to Hocken’s art collection.
In curating and creating this exhibition we have been in touch with many people (especially musicians, photographers, and artists) who were – and still are – very much a part of the Dunedin (and wider NZ) music community. Their support has been invaluable, and we are extremely grateful to them for granting permission to include materials in the exhibition, helping us with licensing, and assisting us with queries about photographers and artists. Some have generously donated very cool items, while others have offered us materials to loan.
Although the exhibition pulls predominantly on Hocken’s collections of Flying Nun and related materials, we are including some lovely and iconic pieces loaned from musicians and supporters of the scene. To everyone involved, we say a huge thank you – we appreciate your support.
Kaleidoscope World: 40 Years Of Flying Nun in Dunedin is on at Hocken Collections between December 4 and March 19, 2022. Hocken Collections is situated at 90 Anzac Avenue, Dunedin, and is open Monday-Saturday.